The Making of 'I'll Walk Into Your Parlour': Part 2

Last time I looked at the planning process behind my latest painting 'I'll Walk Into Your Parlour' (if you missed it, Click Here). In this final instalment, I'm going to delve into the painting process.

The eye was the first thing that I tackled. I looked at references of different magnified eyes and also cataracts for the milky pupil. I used a similar technique to painting hair for the background of the eye. I initially painted it all black and then overlaid very fine white lines radiating from the centre. This looked a little odd, but there was a lot more work to be done. The next stage was to add washes of different colours - although they were predominantly blue - all over the eye, following the directions of the lines. The lines were darkened around the pupil and the edge of the eye.

The next stage was to work over the top of this background to build up the surface of the eye using successive transparent layers that allowed the previous work to be subtly seen. This was where the reference photos came in incredibly handy. There are some strong white highlights to define the shapes but also some small but strong areas of blue. These were added fairly late in the painting process along with numerous thin blue washes to increase the saturation of the eye. I'll explain why I did this through a little bit of colour theory:

Have a look at this simple abstract image. Which appears closer, the rectangle or the square? Fairly obviously, the square. And there are four reasons for this. One, it's larger. Larger objects appear closer to the viewer. Two, it overlaps the rectangle, hiding part of it. Three, the square is a warm colour (red) and the rectangle a cool colour (turquoise). Warm colours appear closer to the viewer. But most importantly for this explanation, the square is a more saturated colour. It is closer to a pure colour, whereas the rectangle is heading towards grey. The more saturated a colour, the closer it appears to be.

Something strange happens when I change the saturation of the colours. The size, warmth and overlapping nature of the square tell your brain that it's closer but the saturation tells you that the odd turquoise shape (see below) is closer and floating somewhere in front of, but perfectly aligned with, the square:

This creates what is called a push and pull effect originally developed by the German abstract artist Hans Hofmann.

With this in mind, I added more saturation to the eye to subtly create this effect, making it appear as though the eye is pulling the viewer into its centre. You can see from the finished painting that the shapes overlapping the eye tell you it is further away and yet the saturation suggests that it's closer. The effect isn't as blatant as my example above but I wanted it to work on a more subliminal level. Oh the fun and japery you can have with colour theory...

Colour theory malarkey 2: the colour scheme. It's nice to know some art rules. It's nice because then you can break them. Breaking rules is cool. Unless it's the rule about not nicking other people's Marmite. Breaking that rule would be uncool, bordering on satanic.

Where was I? Oh yeah, art rules. I set out to use a certain colour scheme. It's called a split complementary colour scheme. Let's take a step back and just look at a complementary colour scheme:

Here's a colour wheel and it is a simple way to find complementary colours. Take red, for instance. All you need to do to find its complementary colour is to look at the colour opposite it on the colour wheel, in this case green. When red and green are put together they make each other seem a lot more vibrant.

Poppies by Claude Monet is a prime example of the use of complementary colours in a painting.

All well and good, but I wanted to try a colour scheme that was a little more complex:

And here we have a split complementary colour scheme. Rather than pairing red with green, it uses the two colours either side of the complementary. With this idea in my head I set off painting.

For a while I liked it. But only for a while. The green was coming too far forward and overshadowing the eye. I could have desaturated the green to push it back but it all felt a bit too pleasant for my tastes. So I broke the rules and went for an unorthodox colour scheme.

I kept the red and added two harmonious colours: blue and blue green. This created the atmosphere that I was going for. It's great to use established rules as starting points but it can sometimes be better to deviate from them to create a specific look.

That's it for colour theory stuff. What fun thing am I going to talk about next?


Oh good grief.

Don't worry I'll pep it up by showing you a photo of a quality board game expansion.

Erm, woo?

This lovely expansion to the excellent Legends of Andor is going to stand in for one of the many walls that make up the huge "well" that leads down to the creature's eye. I wanted to use one-point perspective in this painting with the vanishing point in the centre of the eye. This means that all of the parallel vertical edges of the walls will converge on the centre of the eye. This leads to the walls looking like this:

Ah, the sides of the box can't be seen now, making it look strangely 2-dimensional. What about if the wall is coming from the top of the frame?

Same problem. Surely it will look better coming in from an angle:

Erm, no. It still looks very 2-dimensional.

I had a problem. All of the walls would look like flat rectangles showing not a whiff of their third dimension.

The solution came to me by accident.

Take another look at this photo from Owston Ferry (see last instalment for more details). In the planning stages I took sections of my photos and overlaid them on to the walls.

Look in the bottom left hand corner and you will see a wall that looks something like this highlighted section of the previous photo:

What are actually metal girders appear to be sections cut out from the wall:

I ran with this idea, and cut out lots of areas from the walls, some large (as above) and some small.

Problem solved! It's surprising how many times my paintings have been improved by accidents. It's a case of spotting the good accidents and capitalising on them. It took me a while to spot this one though and yet it's so obvious now. Let's move on to the final element.

I wanted to have a secondary focus in the painting to balance out the enormous eye. Human figures have a lot of visual weight in compositions plus it would fit in with the theme (more on this next time). Initially I was going to have the figure descending on a platform. But when I experimented with this idea in Photoshop it didn't feel right.

Then I swapped to having the figure climbing down one of the walls. But how do you show that the figure is climbing down rather than up? Tricky considering the small scale of the figure.

Finally, I went with the idea of a staircase cut into the wall and the figure walking down it:

The figure had to be small to increase the scale of the rest of the painting and I was quite happy for it not to be seen straight away, but I still had to add in little clues to help the viewer find it. I achieved this by increasing the contrast of the figure, lightening the area around him, plus I made his top a dull red. In addition, I used lines in the composition to lead to the figure:

And I'm afraid that's it for this look at how I created this painting. I'd be interested to know what you think about the composition and use of colour within this painting, or whether you've also experienced happy accidents. Let me know in the comments. box below.

Next time I'll be looking at the meaning behind the painting. See you then!

Signed Limited Editions Prints of

'I'll Walk Into Your Parlour' are available from my shop:


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